Training for what? - it is not all about strategies and tactics
With the new electronic format of The Broken Rifle we want to use the opportunity to also get the WRI network using the forums in our re-developed website. This article will be posted on the WRI forum, we invite people to react to it.
Nonviolence training is usually associated with preparing ourselves for our work against oppression - racism, occupation, war, human rights abuses, etc. But also for stimulating the process of building alternatives, in our organisational structures, in our ways of dealing with power, building alternative economic ventures, etc. Nonviolence training is one of the primary ways the nonviolent movement shares its knowledge -- by learning from each other's work and our own expertise. Trainings can increase the impact your group has on others, help you to function better in action and cope better with the risks and problems posed, and expand your action horizons. Basically, nonviolence training helps to create a safe space to test out and develop new ideas or to analyse and evaluate experiences.
In the present, trainings have many different forms. If you have taken part in one, probably it was as preparation for an action, to help you in your campaign development or maybe to introduce you to nonviolence. In this article I want to focus on a specific focus of nonviolence training that has developed through the courses of the years and which has some conflictive dimensions.
It's not all about strategies and tactics
To look at this problem I will focus on two organisations - the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC) in Washinton DC and the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) in Belgrade. The ICNC was founded in 2001 by Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall, the authors of A Force More Powerful, a far-reaching study of the use of nonviolent action to bring social change. Its main funder seems to be Peter Ackerman himself. ICNC describes itself as "an independent, nonprofit educational foundation that develops and encourages the study and use of civilian-based, nonmilitary strategies to establish and defend human rights, democracy and justice worldwide”. It has three main areas of work to promote nonviolence:
* to educate the general public;
* to influence policies and media coverage and
* to educate activists.
Its training comes up as part of the work of educating activists. They provide on request support for workshops in nonviolent conflict.
For a number of years ICNC has worked in close cooperation with trainers who came from OTPOR, the most dynamic group in the movement that brought down Slobodan Milošević. This group of trainers formed the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS). Their vision is a “world free of violence, with every single political conflict solved by nonviolent struggle... CANVAS trainers and consultants support nonviolent democratic movements through transfer of knowledge on strategies and tactics of nonviolent struggle. CANVAS Supporting Active Network in four countries advocates and promotes battles for democracy worldwide”.
The main aim of these organisations is to bring democracy through nonviolent means all over the world. Democracy in terms of right to elections, freedom of speech, human rights and in some cases also freedom of market. Both organisations say that their agenda is not political, only pro-democracy and for human rights. But at the same time the main movements they use as an example for their model are the so-called 'colour revolutions' in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine. In these people power struggles, there were clear plans on how to get rid of undoubtedly corrupt regimes, but when it was time to build the new society, the new power-holders have not turned out to be model democrats. Indeed in Ukraine, one faction of Pora - the youth group active in the 'Orange Revolution' - has not only been been pushing for Ukraine to join NATO but to again have nuclear weapons bases (as in Soviet days, but this time pointing in the other direction!).
The strategic model for nonviolent conflict includes understanding your enemy, building large groups of activists, a major focus on your communication strategies, demanding elections, running an election campaign and monitoring the election itself as to avoid fraud. It's also all about the branding of nonviolence, making it attractive and saleable to gain support. It does not, however, include much about nonviolent values or how we envision a nonviolent society. This strategy can be very effective in terms of bringing down regimes, but nonviolence should also be about what you want to build next. As these organisations say that their work is not political, they are happy to support initiatives that oppose these regimes, but they seem less concerned about what is to follow.
The focus of the materials produced by CANVAS are all about effective tactics. If you go to the CANVAS site you might be struck by some of the terms they use: battlefield, to explain where nonviolent movements have confronted dictatorial regimes; weaponry, which consists of what they call 'conventional arsenal' -- Group/movement building, communication and action -- and an 'unconventional arsenal' including 'How to act in virtual space' (using the internet) and how to act with limited human and material resources (use of guerrilla approach in propaganda when sending your message) .
I question this perspective of 'winning a nonviolent war'. Yes, we do want to make our campaigns successful, but not at any cost. Our final goal is to work to build the society we want to live in, where there is justice and equality. We can learn a lot from the huge experience on developing strategies for nonviolent conflict, but we also need to see its limitations and remember the fundamental insistence of nonviolence on the consistency between the means used and the ends desired. Is what happened after the 'colour revolutions' what we understand by a nonviolent revolution? I don't think so.